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    JetBlue will offer lie-flat seats to fliers

    Sleeper seats represent the airline’s play for business travelers, who typically spend more than leisure travelers.
    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/File 2006
    Sleeper seats represent the airline’s play for business travelers, who typically spend more than leisure travelers.

    NEW YORK — JetBlue, known for shuttling vacationers from Northeast cities to the warmth of Florida and the Caribbean, is making a play for corporate road warriors.

    Starting next year, the all-coach airline plans to offer 16 lie-flat seats on flights between New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco — the first time the egalitarian carrier will have a second class of service.

    The transcontinental routes are the most profitable and highly contested domestic markets for airlines. Round-trip business class tickets frequently sell for $4,000. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines are all putting lie-flat beds on those routes. Virgin America, which also flies from coast to coast, has a traditional first-class cabin.


    ‘‘Transcontinental routes have had high premium fares we believe we can beat,’’ JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger said in a statement.

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    JetBlue Airways Corp. said the seats will debut on new Airbus A321 planes in the second quarter of 2014. The planes will have 16 seats in the front cabin and 143 in the back. Four of the 16 business class seats will have doors and are being marketed as ‘‘private suites,’’ similar to what Dubai-based Emirates Airway and Singapore Airlines offer their top customers.

    Other A321s not configured for the transcontinental service will have 190 seats. The airline did not say if the 34 inches of legroom that coach passengers currently have — one of the most generous spaces in the industry — would change.

    The 16 premium seats will offer air cushions with adjustable firmness, a massage function, a 15-inch television, and a ‘‘wake-me-for-service’’ indicator if a passenger chooses to sleep.

    Jim Corridore, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ, said he is skeptical that JetBlue can start a price war over premium seats. And he worries that JetBlue will be unable to offset the loss of the 31 coach seats with higher-fare passengers.


    ‘‘The real benefit of lie-flat seats comes on international routes,’’ Corridore said.

    The move came a week after JetBlue reported dismal earnings. Its quarterly income fell by nearly one-third, missing Wall Street expectations, as maintenance and other costs climbed faster than revenue.

    The 13-year-old airline had benefited over the past decade from new planes with lower maintenance costs and lower wages because of its young staff. Now, as it ages, those cost benefits are starting to erode.

    JetBlue can’t grow much more in New York, where take-off and landing slots are restricted. It has grown in Boston to become the city’s largest airline. But Boston lacks the population base for the airline to expand much more. Barger has eyed Washington, but the government caps the number of daily flights.

    The airline has built its base on vacationers who like free, live TV, extra legroom, and lack of fees for the first checked bag.